I love when I read a great, simple sentence. Something so profoundly economical, yet brilliant. Or the complicated one, that somehow feels so compact and powerful. I love good language. Not just words, but language.
Here in the shed, I was reading through some passages of one of my all time favorite books. It is an inspiration, and its yellowed, dog-eared, coffee-stained, falling-out pages have been read hundreds of times. The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich has always been a go-to book when I need a kick in the creative butt. Ehrlich’s beautiful observations and stunning use of language never fails to enliven me.
A particularly memorable passage, short and gorgeous, is one in which Ehrlich writes about the human condition and the human obsession to hide behind “things.”
“We have a cultural tendency toward denial… We have only to look at the houses we build, the way we build against space, the way we drink against pain and loneliness. We fill up space as if it were a pie shell, with things whose opacity further obstructs our ability to see what s already there.”
The passage got me thinking: What are the most beautiful lines/passages in literature.?
The word “beautiful” can be interpreted many ways, of course. But no matter, just go with what makes the heart flutter. I have a few I have found remarkable over and over again. Here are five that come to me and two more I re-discovered inside the books in the shed.
“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.” —J. D. Salinger, “A Girl I Knew”
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” —John Steinbeck, East of Eden
“But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you; And loved the sorrows of your changing face.” —William Butler Yeats, “When You Are Old”
“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.” —Jack Kerouac, On the Road
““We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows” —E.M. Foster, A Room with a View.
““We can experience nothing but the present moment, live in no other second of time, and to understand this is as close as we can get to eternal life.” —P.D. James, The Children of Men.
“I know so many last words. But I will never know hers.” —John Green, Looking For Alaska
There are so many others. And that is not to say that these seven are the ultimate, the best, the greatest, the most enduring., the most iconic, or the most memorable. No. They are the ones that linger for me on this day and the ones I share with you from my desk in the shed.
Header photo credit: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash